Thursday, October 27, 2005


Learning and Teaching

George Eliot, Adam Bede, chap. XXI (The Night-School and the School-Master):
"Now, you see, you don't do this thing a bit better than you did a fortnight ago, and I'll tell you what's the reason. You want to learn accounts--that's well and good. But you think all you need do to learn accounts is to come to me and do sums for an hour or so, two or three times a-week; and no sooner do you get your caps on and turn out of doors again than you sweep the whole thing clean out of your mind. You go whistling about, and take no more care what you're thinking of than if your heads were gutters for any rubbish to swill through that happened to be in the way; and if you get a good notion in 'em, it's pretty soon washed out again.

You think knowledge is to be got cheap--you'll come and pay Bartle Massey sixpence a-week, and he'll make you clever at figures without your taking any trouble. But knowledge isn't to be got with paying sixpence, let me tell you. If you're to know figures, you must turn 'em over in your heads and keep your thoughts fixed on 'em. There's nothing you can't turn into a sum, for there's nothing but what's got number in it--even a fool. You may say to yourselves, 'I'm one fool, and Jack's another; if my fool's head weighed four pound, and Jack's three pound three ounces and three quarters, how many pennyweights heavier would my head be than Jack's?' A man that had got his heart in learning figures would make sums for himself and work 'em in his head. When he sat at his shoemaking, he'd count his stitches by fives, and then put a price on his stitches, say half a farthing, and then see how much money he could get in an hour; and then ask himself how much money he'd get in a day at that rate; and then how much ten workmen would get working three, or twenty, or a hundred years at that rate--and all the while his needle would be going just as fast as if he left his head empty for the devil to dance in.

But the long and the short of it is--I'll have nobody in my night-school that doesn't strive to learn what he comes to learn, as hard as if he was striving to get out of a dark hole into broad daylight. I'll send no man away because he's stupid: if Billy Taft, the idiot, wanted to learn anything, I'd not refuse to teach him. But I'll not throw away good knowledge on people who think they can get it by the sixpenn'orth, and carry it away with 'em as they would an ounce of snuff. So never come to me again, if you can't show that you've been working with your own heads, instead of thinking that you can pay for mine to work for you. That's the last word I've got to say to you."

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